Hang onto your hat, Chicago. Your next school crisis is right around the corner.
Ten months after the biggest realignment in CPS history, the stage is set for a cataclysmic budget debacle, which could top $1 billion.
"It's completely nuts," says Chicago Teachers Union vice president Jesse Sharkey. "And unless we do something about it, we're going to be facing a billion dollar budget crisis."
At issue is a board plan to take 14 months of revenue for the coming 12 month school fiscal year, essentially borrowing money from the 2015-2016 school budget. School board president David Vitale did not dispute the number.
"It does allow us to avoid laying off thousands of teachers," Vitale said. "It will lead to a serious problem a year from now, but the alternative is not very pretty, and it's our judgment that we should do everything we can to maintain the quality we can for our kids."
The CTU says it sees a more sinister motive for the budget sleight of hand.
"They don't want to do it during a mayoral election," said Sharkey. "So they're kicking it to the following year."
But Vitale bristled at suggestions that political calculations were any part of the calculation.
"I would take issue with that," he said. "We're doing this to keep the kids in school, and keep teachers on the job. That's the alternative. Fire a whole bunch of teachers!"
The looming controversy comes as the school system closes the books on a turbulent year, where 50 schools were closed, and thousands of students were shuffled to so-called "welcoming schools". Millions were spent staffing "Safe Passage" routes to the new buildings, to guarantee that pupils walking through potentially hostile gang territories arrived safely.
"The safety issue turned out to be pretty much a non-event," Vitale said. "It's hard to remember an incident that occurred. So from our standpoint, if there were no incidents, then it was a success."
The Chicago Police Department did not respond to requests for statistics on the safe passage routes for the 2014 school year. But the CTU questions how long the program can be sustained.
"Opening weekend of schools they had firefighters in truck on the routes," Sharkey said. "That's not a good use of our fire department."
"We will sustain it as long as is necessary," Vitale said, noting Safe Passage was not a new program, but rather an existing one which was expanded to accommodate the shift in school buildings.
CPS administrators said of the 11,729 students who were impacted by the consolidations, 92.5 percent, or about 10,849 re-enrolled in the school system. And 64 percent, or about 7506 ended up going to the receiving schools they had been designated to attend. Another 880 left the system.
"We don't want to tell parents where to send their children," Vitale said. But overall, he said the consolidations had been a success.
"I would give ourselves an 'A' actually," he said. "If you ask up and down the line, it went about as well as anybody could have been expected."
Still, the CTU leadership continues to question the motivations for the school closings, and contend that the Board continues to lavish spending on charter and selective enrollment schools, at the expense of the system at large.
"The closings weren't about adding resources to the public system," Sharkey insisted. "It was about dismantling public schools, in order to hand over buildings, or hand over neighborhoods to be served by charter schools, private schools, contract schools, outside the school system."
Vitale insisted that was not the case. That the sole purpose of the consolidations was to provide a better educational experience.
"If we believe that a charter operator, or a contract charter operator can deliver a quality school, then we'll choose that option," he said. "If we think we can have a regular school that can do the job with a little extra help, we're going to invest in that little bit of extra help."
"You know, one of the reasons we consolidated was the number of children in these neighborhoods. We don't want another school where there aren't children."